Subversive Cinema // 1976 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 21st, 2004
Molly really knows how to cut men down to size!!
Ignore the sensational tagline and the zany cover art of a big-chested witch who has snakes crawling all over her while she hefts a pointy knife. Sure, this is exploitative -- but not in the way the disc jacket would have you believe.
We meet Molly (Lillie Perkins) at the beach, spending time with her nephews. Molly is a young, attractive, easy-going spirit who enjoys solid family time during the day and sleazy-bar-waitressing at night. Underneath her seemingly normal exterior, something dark is bubbling. A sinister relationship with her father is hinted at by her mother, despite Molly's constant defense of him.
But Molly's psyche begins to unravel. She starts to conjure morbid fantasies about drug-soaked orgies with football players, which eventually lead to sexual mutilation, and the line between reality and imagination blurs. Is it simply fantasy? Or are her acts real?
There is certainly some degree of malfeasance at play here, as the authorities kick off an investigation. As the police draw closer and closer to their prey, Molly draws closer and closer to the truth of her past, and to her complete and utter psychological breakdown. And caught at the nexus of these events: some poor dolt's unsuspecting genitals.
The Witch Who Came From the Sea, cumbersome title and all, is not what I was expecting. Re-released by the committed folks at Subversive Cinema (whose prior offering, Living Hell, was lovingly crafted even though the movie was pretty lame), this film is plays like a '70s version of a Lifetime movie, just with gushing blood and nudity.
It's a "coming-out" story, as in, Molly is "coming out of her brain and going crazy." Okay, that line doesn't make a terrible amount of sense, but the point is that this isn't a tongue-in-cheek schlockfest, nor an exercise in gratuitiveness. Producer/director Matt Cimber is playing this one straight, and tells Molly's story with a deadly serious lens.
There's certainly exploitation to be had, specifically the incest-laden flashback scenes that are undeniably jarring. As Cimber relates in a bonus feature interview, the film had trouble finding distribution because of this material.
Again, tying in to the overall thrust of the film (oh man that was bad word choice), these scenes are not voyeuristically exploitative, and not necessarily graphic, but serve the story of Molly's character.
It is a character study, in essence, Witch is; and Molly is the one under the microscope. Fortunately, Millie Perkins goes for the gusto and does an exceedingly fine job portraying this emotionally disturbed girl.
Despite a few up-close-and-personal throat slashings -- tame stuff for you jaded gorehounds -- the extreme violence is relegated to off-screen status, and therefore to the viewer's imagination. Cimber touches upon this facet of the movie as well, noting that some objections raised about the content involved this brutality, despite its implied nature. But the scenes were so deftly directed that what was inferred became even more hard-hitting than what could have transpired in front of the lens. And I agree with him. I dare any guy to watch the, er, de-weinerization sequences and not cringe.
The movie does lag in some places. Molly's emergence and the revelation of her past is handled well with respect to the pacing, but the surrounding narrative, I found, dragged a bit. At some points I found The Witch Who Came from the Sea as tedious as its overlong title.
I applaud Subversive Cinema for its motivation in resurrecting movies like these, dressing up their treatment, and putting together a solid presentation. The film is given a solid 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that suffers from minor color flaws. The 2.0 stereo surround mix is what you would expect for an old-school, underground flick like this -- shallow and light on the bass.
Subversive was able to drum up a good amount of special features. An audio commentary with Director of Photography Dean Cundey, Matt Cimber, and Millie Perkins is informative, but poorly recorded. There is too much distracting background noise and cross-chatter. A lengthy featurette sports interviews with the cast and relays the difficulty the producers had in getting the movie out and about. Bios for Cundey, Cimber, and Perkins complete the offering.
A great treatment of a gritty, disturbing little film with a misleading title. Go in expecting what I said here, and you should come away satisfied.
The court is still weirded out by those razor blades and chooses not to comment.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Subversive Cinema
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew
* Cast and Crew Bios